A solid book; it’s about scientists exploring an alien world. The science part feels right–there are restrictions that the chafe at, genuine engagement and questions, and resignation to do the best the can, despite the restrictions.
The Sholen begin as an off screen constraint… their rules are the impediment to good science, for understandable reasons. Then we start getting POV chapters from them, and we realize how thin their justification is. They are well built as alien but comprehensible; their politics aren’t fully explained, but they are politics as we’d understand them. The Sholen’s intrusion into the base, after the accident, kicks up a hornet’s nest. Some of the petty and strange behavior of the scientists until then make sense with the new context.
When things go wrong, there’s a solid cultural explanation behind the ratcheting escalation. It’s well done; missteps and misinterpretations grounded in their own understanding of social agreements lead to subtle warfare–but both sides are divided. It’s really well done.
He built an interesting universe; I suspect that I’d enjoy following these characters as they deal with the aftermath of their actions and the repercussions on both societies. I’d also be interested in stories of other characters elsewhere, wrestling under the same constraints–and navigating the changes that Ilmatar’s conflict will have on Human-Sholen relations everywhere.